One cold February night Jess sees an opportunity to get away from her abusive boyfriend ‘Dodge’ and she takes it. The problem is she has just fifty pounds to her name and nowhere to live. Not wanting to stay where Dodge might find her she comes across an old empty house where she decides to stay the night. Sitting on the doormat is a pile of unopened mail including one that stands out, handwritten and on thick paper Jess opens it and finds a recent letter addressed to a Stella Thorne. Sensing a mystery that might take her mind off her own problems Jess is intrigued and a box of old letters soon gives Jess the background to the plea.
The writer of the letters is Dan, now in his nineties, frail, but with a lively mind but who Stella was remains a bit of a mystery. What is clear that these were two people in love so why did they spend the majority of their lives apart?
Will is also interested in the old house, he works for one of those companies that try and find heirs when someone dies without leaving a will. The woman whose house Jess is living in was Nancy Price and to try and get some background on her Will chats to the neighbours. Will is a posh boy whose life hasn’t ended up the way he, or his family expected, in short he feels a bit of a failure, not helped by a bullying boss. On his quest to sign up heirs, Will bumps into Jess not realising she is staying in the house of his quarry.
The story told that involves Dan and Stella is one of a war-time romance between an American airman and a lonely and unloved young woman. Stella is married to a Reverend and her war consists of church committee meetings, queuing for food and managing to turn her meagre supplies into a dinner for first her husband and then the new vicar once Charles goes off to fight his war. There is little excitement and that is provided by her friend from the children’s home Nancy. The story that follows will melt the hardest of hearts. One of the must-haves for me in these types of books is that the historical angle must feel authentic. The author has easily achieved this, painting a picture of war-time London that had all those little details to transport the reader to this difficult time. With Dan adding the realities of life as an airman which didn’t shy away from the terror these young men faced I truly felt the emotions as well as the war-time sacrifices a whole generation made.
For once in these dual time-line tales I was equally as interested in the present day story. Having an interest in family history made the trials of Will trying to track relatives down through the records an interesting twist to the story. With the clear parallels between Jess and Stella, despite the span of years between the two giving a feeling of ‘rightness’ to the character’s chosen. All of the main protagonists were clearly and consistently portrayed, not for this author the cheap trick of a misunderstanding that kept the lovers apart, the mystery was far more realistic than that.
Altogether a lovely read which brought a lump to my throat on a few occasion helped by the cleverly woven threads which had me longing to know just a little bit more each time I reached the end of a chapter. In my opinion this book deserves the huge accolades it has received this year and I for one am glad I met all of the characters although I was sad to say goodbye to them when I turned the last page.